Highway Patrolman


  • This is told from the viewpoint of the highway patrolman who has to deal with his brother constantly getting in trouble with the law.
  • Springsteen recorded this in one take on a 4-track tape deck. Intended as a demo for the band to work with, he decided that this and the other songs he recorded sounded best as they were and Nebraska became a solo album.
  • Johnny Cash used this to open his 1983 album Johnny 99. The album was named after another Springsteen song that Cash also covered.
  • This song was the basis for the 1991 Sean Penn move The Indian Runner.
  • A version with The Seeger Sessions Band that Springsteen performed on his "American Land" tour appeared on this 2007 album The Sessions Band: Live in Dublin. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • The lyric "When the band played Night of the Johnstown Flood" concerns a flood that engulfed the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania on the night of May 21, 1889. It was caused by a ferocious storm that broke down the South Fork Dam, 15 miles upstream. 20 million tons of water engulfed the town and 2,000 lives were lost. Over the years several songs have been written about the flood and it is thought that Springsteen is most likely referring to Mack Moody's 1963 version of the traditional folk song "Jonestown Flood."
  • The second line of the song identifies Sargent Joe Roberts as acting out of "Perrineville barracks number 8." At least, most people have assumed it was "Perrineville," but that doesn't make any sense. Perrineville is a town in New Jersey, Springsteen's home state, but the story in "Highway Patrolman" takes place in Michigan. So, it's much more likely that the second line is talking about Perronville, an unincorporated community in Harris Township, Monominee County, Michigan.

    Many people have misidentified the song as talking about a Perrineville, Ohio, but no such town exists. This misunderstanding likely results from the song's line about Joe's brother Frank driving a "Buick with Ohio plates," but this too is confusing things because the whole point of that line is to say that it's a stolen car from another state--in this case, the state of Ohio, which borders Michigan.

Comments: 13

  • Barry from Sauquoit, Ny'Dancin' with Maria as the band played Night of the Johnstown Flood…
    On May 31st 1889* the South Fork Dam collapsed flooding the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania...
    * Per Wikipedia...
  • Craig from Peterborough, OnRoberto for all I know your comment was left years ago, but you sir are a great example of why Americans get duped into all kinds of nonsense by the sheer force of propaganda. And if you are going to call Bruce a "liberal America hater" while hero worshiping Johnny Cash, then you might want to listen to the lyrics of "Man in Black", "Custer", "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" for starters. Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen are both true legends and 20th century poets. I was listening to this song driving towards Manitoba in North Dakota and just after it finished I passed a sign saying "U.S. Border Patrol Stn 5 miles"
  • Michael from Vellmar, GermanyIf you listen carefully to the recording you can even hear the chair he is sitting on during the recording.
  • J. E. Starkweather from Lincoln, NeThe lyrics are haunting. Like others have already pointed out "Highway Patrolman" was written and performed first by Springsteen
  • Henry O. Godwinn from Wheeling, WvThe Indian Runner, directed by Sean Penn, used the song as a plot. Also a tv movie called Joe Roberts was made but didn't do well.
  • Omri617 from Tel Aviv, IsraelJohnny Cash even said once : "I give Bruce the credit for writing that song. I wish i had written it" - in an interview with Steve Turner, England 1988/ Source : The Man Called Cash - Steve Turner/Kriss Kristofferson
  • Ben from Mission Viejo, CaMy family knows many people in the music industry, most particularly Johhny Cash. We don't know him personally, but we know a lot about Springsteen. He actually recorded Nebraska while living in my hometown. Johnny was a talented, kind, but troubled person. It was good that he found peace later in life. Bruce is the real deal. You may not agree with his politics, but he does NOT hate America. He just has a problem with those who mislead and lie to Americans. A true American allows one to have their opinions without questioning their patriotism.
  • Roberto from Vermont, United StatesJohnny Cash played the heck out of Highway Patrolman. He owns the song despite the fact that the liberal American hater Bruce Springsteen wrote it.

    God Bless America & God Bless Johnny Cash
  • Ben from Nottingham, EnglandYep, i agree with the comments below about this being done by Springsteen first. I am a massive fan of both and can confirm that Bruce did it first. Cash covered many songs in his life and this was one of them. Its hardly suprising that Cash covered this and 'Johnny 99' because the whole 'Nebraska' album is based on the type of themes that Cash sang about through his whole career. In fact, Bruce has said that he listened to Cash's music all day long in the period when he wrote and recorded 'Nebraska'.
  • Steve from Woodbridge, VaAs a huge fan of both Bruce and Cash, I can confirm that Bruce wrote this one. It's the only song I can think of which served as the basis for a feature length film .
  • Bruce from Warnsveld, NetherlandsThis is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. The video-clip though, is a bit strange
  • Johnny from Sault Ste. Marie, CanadaSorry but this song was written by Bruce, not Johnny Cash. However, Johnny did do a great version of Bruce's "Johnny 99".
  • A from Loch Arbour, NjThis song was originally written and recorded by Johnny Cash
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Andy McClusky of OMD

Andy McClusky of OMDSongwriter Interviews

Known in America for the hit "If You Leave," OMD is a huge influence on modern electronic music.

James Williamson of Iggy & the Stooges

James Williamson of Iggy & the StoogesSongwriter Interviews

The Stooges guitarist (and producer of the Kill City album) talks about those early recordings and what really happened with David Bowie.

Mac Powell of Third Day

Mac Powell of Third DaySongwriter Interviews

The Third Day frontman talks about some of the classic songs he wrote with the band, and what changed for his solo country album.

Matt Sorum

Matt SorumSongwriter Interviews

When he joined Guns N' Roses in 1990, Matt helped them craft an orchestral sound; his mezzo fortes and pianissimos are all over "November Rain."

90210 to Buffy to Glee: How Songs Transformed TV

90210 to Buffy to Glee: How Songs Transformed TVSong Writing

Shows like Dawson's Creek, Grey's Anatomy and Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed the way songs were heard on TV, and produced some hits in the process.

Tim Butler of The Psychedelic Furs

Tim Butler of The Psychedelic FursSongwriter Interviews

Tim and his brother Richard are the Furs' foundation; Tim explains how they write and tells the story of "Pretty In Pink."